Spotlight on the United Nations Global Compact
In a January 1999 speech to the World Economic Forum, United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Kofi Annan recognized the imbalance between markets and societal legitimacy. Annan challenged business leaders to join a global compact which would close the gap between economic progression and emerging environmental and social issues. What started out merely as a speech soon turned into a full-fledged organization; in 2000 the Global Compact was launched.
According to Georg Kell, Executive Director of the United Nations Global Compact Office (UNGC), “the Global Compact translates into action Kofi Annan’s vision of a more sustainable and inclusive global economy.” A voluntary organization, the UNGC is headquartered in New York and is composed of over 3,000 people worldwide. Hundreds of companies work within the initiatives laid out by the Global Compact in an effort to advance the UNGC’s ten principles in the areas of the environment, labor, human rights, and anti-corruption. The Global Compact is not a regulatory body and instead focuses on public accountability and transparency of businesses.
“As businesses become more global, business leaders gain cultural experience. We work with companies to set good examples within their spheres of influence,” Kell notes. Moreover, he believes if a business is grounded in the ten UNGC principles, there is more stability and inclusiveness throughout the markets in which the business operates. This in turn will serve to support broader UN goals such as its historical primary goal of world peace.
“By taking action together we can make more impactful what organizations such as the UN are doing,” suggests Kell. UNGC helps businesses devise strategies via the four principles of learning, dialogue, partnership, and projects.
The upcoming global forum - Business as an Agent of World Benefit: Management Knowledge Leading Positive Change, provides a unique and exciting partnership opportunity for the UNGC, the Academy of Management (AoM) and Case Western Reserve University, each of which brings certain strengths to the conference. Kell notes, “The Academy of Management, a key institutional member, brings established learning methodologies to the forum.” He believes AoM will provide educational leaders a fresh look at the academic aspects of corporate social responsibility. “Business leaders today must understand the importance of world harmony,” he says. “Business management is seen as an essential part of the solution.”
In addition to AoM, Kell believes Case Western Reserve University will serve as an anchor between AoM and the UNGC. The university was an integral part of a previous summit during which “Case brought the methodology to create a conducive environment for such an event,” according to Kell. He also notes Case is synonymous with Appreciative Inquiry, a revolutionary change management method which Kell believes will be a key success factor to the global forum.
There are a number of important goals for the conference including exploring ways in which businesses can financially prosper while simultaneously benefiting society and the environment. In addition to these lofty goals, Kell believes the forum has historical importance for the UNGC as well. “Our hope is that the global forum revives the UN’s dream that people can live in peace together,” Kell says. “Businesses can accomplish this by being positive world agents.” Furthermore, the UNGC views the upcoming forum as a “watershed event upon which new understandings can be built as well as provide fresh impetus to educate future leaders,” says Kell.
By partnering with AoM and BAWB, the UNGC is helping bring about tangible solutions to some of the 21st century’s greatest challenges including human conflict, extreme poverty, and environmental degradation. With the end of the Cold War and its associated ideologies, Kell notes that we now live in what he terms “an age of pragmatism.” He argues that as a result of these changes, we can revitalize the UN’s goal of world peace. “Changes in political ideologies and the rise of business pragmatism are essential to attack the world’s most basic problems,” he says.
Resulting from the exciting partnership between three such prestigious organizations, the Global Forum is certainly a positive step forward towards the UN’s ultimate goal of world peace.
By Leanne Shott, MBA Candidate 2007